One question I get a lot, particularly from beginning canners, is where to buy jars. And it’s true, it can be challenging to find them, particularly during the off-season. If you live in an urban area, it can be even harder. However, I’ve found that finding canning jars is never impossible. Here are some places to look.
Unfortunately, not all grocery stores carry canning jars and their stock often varies depending on the neighborhood in which the store is located. For instance, there is always a small canning section in the South Philadelphia ShopRite (during the harvest season, they expand their stock), but other locations of the chain don’t always have canning stuff in stock. I’ve been told that this is because that area has a historically high Italian population and thus, a tradition of canning tomato products.
Another local spot (for those of you in the greater Philadelphia region) is Wegmans. Their canning section is always stocked, although its placement in the store can vary depending on the location you’re in. We don’t have any Weis Markets in Philadelphia proper, but they start appearing as soon as you get out of the city. I’ve often found jars (as well as copies of the Ball Blue Book) there.
Out west, I’ve found that WinCo can always be relied on for canning jars, lids and other useful products (in the summer, they put the jars on special and they’re super affordable).
If you can’t find the canning section in your local grocery store, make sure to search out the odd corners, like that seldom-used hardware aisle and at the end of the pet food section (truly, I’ve found jars in both places). The Acme markets around here only stocks jars during the summer months, but they keep them on the baking aisle. It’s also good to look near the plastic wraps and boxes of tin foil. And don’t be afraid to ask grocery store staff where their canning section is. If they say that they don’t have one, suggest that they start carrying canning stuff. Customer demand is a terrific way to increase the availability of canning supplies.
While canning supplies tend to be a seasonal item for hardware stores, a number of them will stock jars during the height of the canning season. I’ve found that Ace and TrueValue stores can be some of the most reliable jar destinations out of the traditional hardware store genre. You can also order jars from their websites, but make sure to select the “ship to store” option, to save yourself the shipping costs. You’ll have to pick up the jars when they arrive, but I always prefer a quick errand over $20-30 in shipping fees.
Side note: There used to be a wonderful little independently owned hardware store across the street from my apartment building and they carried jars (I bought some of my very first canning jars from them about six years ago) and so many other useful items (like the tube light bulbs that fit the fixture over my kitchen sink). However, they didn’t survive the slumping economy. Lesson learned: support your local hardware stores.
While in Lancaster County, PA last weekend, I found myself in the most amazing home goods stores I’ve ever encountered (that’s where the picture above was taken). Called Good’s Store, their canning aisle was truly a thing of beauty. They had all sizes of jars (even my beloved half pint, wide-mouth Kerr jars), canning pots, pressure canners, pectin, cookbooks and more. Truly, seeing such preserving abundance in one place was enough to make me a little giddy.
Jar and Closure Distributors
There are a number of jar distributors located around the country. Their primary business is to supply jars to commercial food producers, but they’re also happy to sell to the general public. You can either order online from a jar distributor, or, if you have one in your region, you can often place an order and pick it up at the warehouse. Fillmore Container is my closest jar distributor and whenever I need a large number of jars, I’ll place an order online or over the phone, and arrange to pick up in person. It’s the very cheapest way I know of to get brand new jars.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying used jars, as long as you give them a good once-over before you plonk your money down. Check the rims for any chips or cracks and make sure that they’re fairly free from major staining and scratching. Haunt your local thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets for good jars. My personal rule is that I don’t spend more than $4-5 a dozen when it comes to used pint jars (I’ll go a bit higher for quarts), because much more than that and they start to get as expensive as a box of new ones (depending on their size).
For more of my tips on buying used jars, check out the post I wrote on the subject last year.
The one problem with buying jars online is that the shipping costs quickly get prohibitive. Glass is heavy and so the shipping can sometimes double your costs. However, for us urban dwellers, it can often be the only way to get your jar fix, particularly if you’re looking for a special size/shape (again, I call out those wide mouth, half-pints I love so much).
On Amazon, I like the seller Brand Variety for jars because their shipping structure is one of the more reasonable I’ve found. For all other canning stuff, I turn to Lehman’s. I love the stainless steel canning funnel they sell.
Craigslist can also be a good place to find used jars, depending on the level of jar competition in your area (I’ve found that it’s a heck of a lot harder to get used jars off CL in Oregon than it is here in Philly. The canning revival got there first, I guess).
Now, to make this post even more useful, please share where you find jars! Let’s here from the other regions of the country, which grocery and hardware stores are most reliable in your area?